Illinois Fighting Illini guard Brandon Paul (3) shoots a free throw during the second half against the Eastern Kentucky Colonels at Assembly Hall. Illinois defeated Eastern Kentucky 66-53. Mandatory Credit: Bradley Leeb-USA TODAY Sports
Champaign, IL (Sports Network) - Brandon Paul had 17 points and nine rebounds to lead No. 10 Illinois past Eastern Kentucky, 66-53, in a battle of undefeated teams at Assembly Hall.
Tracy Abrams added 13 points and Joseph Bertrand finished with 11 points and seven boards for the Fighting Illini (12-0), who have now won 22 straight games against non-conference opponents at home and 34 straight against non- conference foes overall.
Also with the win, Illinois coach John Groce tied Fletcher Lane for the all- time best start of any first-year Illini coach.
Lane accomplished the feat during the 1907-08 season.
Corey Walden scored a game-high 21 points to pace Eastern Kentucky (9-1), which was off to its best start to start a season since opening the 1946-47 campaign 11-0.
The Colonels struggled offensively in the early going, connecting on just two of their first 14 shots from the floor, and Illinois took advantage with a 17-6 run over the first 10-plus minutes of action to take a seemingly comfortable lead.
But then Eastern Kentucky found its offensive rhythm while taking advantage of three Illini turnovers and reeled off nine straight points to get back within 17-15.
The Colonels managed to stay within five points from there and trailed, 25-20, at the break.
Eastern Kentucky shot just 30.8 percent in the opening 20 minutes while Illinois shot 37.9 percent from the floor, but the Colonels were able to score 11 points off 10 Illini turnovers to keep the game close.
Illinois quickly added to its lead in the second half, opening the frame with an 11-2 push to run out to a 36-22 lead.
Eastern Kentucky was held at arm's length from there until an 11-5 spurt a bit later closed its gap to 45-40 with 8 1/2 minutes left to play.
The Colonels would get no closer than that, however, as the Fighting Illini scored the game's next nine points to stretch their lead back up to double digits and Eastern Kentucky would not threaten for the remainder of the game.
The Illini's 12-game winning streak is their longest since winning 15 straight to open the 2005-06 season ... It was just the second-ever meeting between the teams and the first since Dec. 6, 1985, which Illinois also won ... Eastern Kentucky finished the game shooting 36.2 percent from the floor ... Illinois shot 50 percent from the field in the contest to offset 20 turnovers, which led to 17 Colonel points.
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